Sometimes a composer’s personality can speak volumes about the music she or he writes. Tranquility mixed with pointed curiosity fits both the outward persona of Janice Giteck as well as the character of her work. Her compositions, which focus on chamber music but also include orchestral works and film scores, combine the rigor of Western European musical training with a meld of Buddhist, Hasidic, Javanese, and African influences.
Bernard Rands navigates a variety of dualities both in his music and in his personal life. For someone approaching 80-years old, he is amazingly youthful and vigorous. Though he is steadfast in his routines, he’s constantly seeking and engaging with new ideas not only from music but also from art and literature. And all of this inevitably shows up in his own music.
David Borden’s formidable category-defying musical accomplishments are a direct precedent to today’s largely DIY contemporary music landscape. The skewed counterpoint and unexpected harmonic progressions in The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, his 3-hour magnum opus which he began composing 35 years ago, make it sound vibrant and fresh to this day, whatever instruments are ultimately used for its performance.
Composer John Harbison says that he is trying to “defeat the idea of style.” That is, he tries to approach every new composition with completely fresh ears and eyes, working with totally new musical material and strategies well apart from anything that preceded it. He possesses a deep understanding of music, but the richness of his music is also a byproduct of his broad interests beyond music—such as poetry and history—as well as his untiring curiosity about the world in which we live.
Much is made in the music press of violinist Hilary Hahn’s stunning technique, impeccable poise, and unshakable intonation. In that picture of perfection, however, one of her most striking character traits—her seemingly insatiable curiosity—can get a bit lost. Still, though she doesn’t flaunt her boundary pushing with unusual concert dress or radical interpretive choices, she resolutely pursues her own interests with care and focus.
Though his formal education includes study at the New England Conservatory, Fred Hersch readily points out how the on-the-bandstand schooling he received in jazz clubs like Bradley’s in New York prepared him to be the musician is today. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about this journey and all that has come in its wake, but returned again and again to the idea of taking chances, trying things out, seeing what happens if—Hersch seemingly unbowed by the anxieties such open-ended performance situations bring into play. Later, he came at it head-on: “I think there has to be a certain element of danger in jazz, or it isn’t really jazz.”
Whether it is an orchestral work or a composition for chamber ensemble, Pierre Jalbert professes his affection for musical forms both large and small, and especially enjoys the back-and-forth of creating a work for large forces immediately followed by a smaller one. His compositions, which are vibrant and tautly constructed with thoughtfulness and precision often contrast slow music suggesting a sense of “suspended time” with fast, highly syncopated material that propels the work forward.
In addition to the megahit records (“Killing Me Softly”, “I Got a Name”), TV themes (Happy Days, Love Boat), and film scores (Barbarella, 9 to 5), Charles Fox has composed extensively for jazz and Latin bands as well as chorus, orchestra, and ballet. He’s probably the only person on the planet who can boast connections to both Nadia Boulanger and Barry Manilow!
Although Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has received more accolades than most living composers—the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the first composer chair at Carnegie Hall, as well as the only living composer ever mentioned in a Peanuts® comic strip—she believes that the pinnacle of success is hearing a wonderful performance of one of her compositions.